By Deborah Marsden

Having recently moved to the north east from the land locked midlands and being a keen scuba diver I was quick to join the local scuba diving club in Whitley Bay.

Soon after joining I found out the dive club was arranging a beach clean alongside the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). Having always lived in the midlands it wasn’t something I had ever thought about doing before. But now living so close to the beaches and appreciating the marine environment in this region, I signed up.

The beach clean focused on a 100m stretch at Whitley Sands and was part of the MCS’s Great British Beach Clean campaign that was held between 16th to 19th September 2016.

The event was a great chance to meet people and improve the local environment and contribute to Cundall’s pledge of 40,000 hours of volunteering for our 40th anniversary year.

Who are The Marine Conservation Society

The MSC is a charity that works towards the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife. Since 1983 the MCS has more than 10,000 volunteers who clean up beaches around the UK (MCS, 2016).

The Great British Beach Clean campaign is the UK’s biggest beach clean and survey which takes place all around the UK every year. The event not only cleans up the beaches following the tourist season but provides the MCS with information about trends and sources of the litter and where to focus their campaigns to stop litter getting to the beaches. The survey information is provided to government decision makers and leaders and the MCS also hold talks with the companies whose logos keep showing up on the survey data.

What were the overall trends and surprises?

When I first arrived at the beach I didn’t think much litter would be collected, as it looked to be relatively litter free. Although only 2 bags had been collected I was surprised that over 300 pieces of litter had been found and how small the litter was, which mostly comprised small pieces of plastic, mainly polystyrene. On my area alone I collected 66 pieces of plastic that was generally no bigger than 2.5 cm. The majority of this appeared to be from polystyrene cups that had broken up.

The amount of plastic collected would however be no surprise to the MCS who have shown through historical surveys that plastics make up the majority of debris found on beaches, in the UK and countries around the world (MCS, 2016).

What is the problem with plastic?

Plastics are extremely beneficial in our consumer culture, being durable, lightweight and cheap however they are also pervasive, persistent and hazardous, posing a threat to ourselves and wildlife (MCS, 2016). Plastic litter never biodegrades, but just breaks down. Seabirds mistake the litter for food and over 90% of fulmars found dead around the north sea have plastic in their stomachs (MCS, 2016).

Are there any more MCS beach cleaning events happening?

There are beach cleaning events and surveys happening up and down the country throughout the year which can be viewed on the MCS website

It’s also possible to become a beach watch organiser and start up a beach clean event of your own at your local beach.

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Deborah Marsden, Geotechnical, Volunteering


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